Monday, February 1, 2010

"Play a new track, Jiminy Cricket"

So, I've been thinking a lot about about ethical development and ethical theories. I think that activity might be part of what's suggested by the admonition to "let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly" because ethics/virtue/morality is pretty much the same spectrum in my view. One needs to both 1) improve her ethical sensitivity and 2) conform with that increased sophistication/sensitivity in order to become more ethical/virtuous/moral.

One conclusion from this thought thread: I think it's okay to talk back to Jiminy Cricket because conscience isn't just the Spirit- it's also your culture, the aggregate of the agreements you've made (see The Four Agreements by Don Ruiz and #5 of with the scripts you're fed growing up! Yes, the Holy Ghost does guide and direct, and one should ALWAYS follow the Spirit. (The competing realities of the Spirit and the Voice of Cultural Compliance [VCC] dictate the need to discern the influence of the Holy Ghost.) Though the Spirit is real, it is not the exact same as the voice of one's conscience. We often feel about the same compliance pressure from our conscience for important as well as less important matters (e.g. you feel about as guilty for {breaching the cultural norm of proposing without a ring, or not getting Christmas presents for your family, or [for Japanese] failing to bow properly, or [for men] not paying for your date} as you do for {breaching a commandment such as going to church or not reading your scriptures yesterday}). Lex rejicit superflua, pugnatia, incongrua "the law rejects superfluous, contradictory and incongruous things." Clearly, God's commandments merit greater compliance than largely arbitrary social norms. Plus, because some people have more developed consciences, it would therefore be unreasonable to conclude that conscience can be constituted solely of the Spirit of Christ or else 1) eveyone's conscience would be the same and 2) one would need to attribute cultural compliance pressure/the VCC/the inner Lawmaker/conscience (again, see Ruiz's book) to that Spirit. It is difficult to think of the Spirit of Christ encouraging impressionable human souls to comply with unfounded and often injudicious cultural customs.

So talk back to it! Squish that Jiminy Cricket and recast him into a better model! You tell him what's proper conduct, not just the other way around! (This practice is consistent with the "real" Jiminy Cricket- in the original book, he was crushed to death by a mallet in the first chapter. But don't worry, he comes back, "as a living cricket, none the worse for being killed with a hammer.") Make your conscience more ethical- what you choose it to be. I think so far that a teleological/consequentialist approach is the best theory (with some universalizable Kantian maxims thrown in), so for the moment I'm going to go with that system. The deontology alternative is too indifferent to consequences in my view, and also seems to counter my beliefs about the value of accountability and agency. I will now relate a story that tested my resolve in this matter.

At the law college we have a couple fridges in the lounge. Each week an email reminder is sent to all to remove their food from the fridge at five pm. I know from observation that the SBA (student bar association) raptors swoop in afterward and clean out the fridges, throwing away leftovers. I sensed an opportunity for free grocery shopping! Pounce in at 5:15 and take a couple bags' worth! That way, 1) I benefit, 2) the cleaners-up have a smaller job, and 3) net world food waste is lessened. I felt uncomfortable about it (implicating the "listen to your heart," deontological, "hearken to the voice inside you" ethical system), but it made sense in the ethical framework that I've intentionally chosen, so I put that Jiminy Cricket in his place and gutted those fridges! Sister Dalton's "Return to Virtue" talk inspires this courage (,5232,23-1-947-24,00.html). My next move may be altruistic kidney donation (,

Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene II: 

Launcelot Gobbo:
   Certainly my conscience will serve me to run from
this Jew my master. The fiend is at mine elbow and
tempts me saying to me 'Gobbo, Launcelot Gobbo, good
Launcelot,' or 'good Gobbo,' or good Launcelot
Gobbo, use your legs, take the start, run away. My
conscience says 'No; take heed,' honest Launcelot;
take heed, honest Gobbo, or, as aforesaid, 'honest
Launcelot Gobbo; do not run; scorn running with thy
heels.' Well, the most courageous fiend bids me
pack: 'Via!' says the fiend; 'away!' says the
fiend; 'for the heavens, rouse up a brave mind,'
says the fiend, 'and run.' Well, my conscience,
hanging about the neck of my heart, says very wisely
to me 'My honest friend Launcelot, being an honest
man's son,' or rather an honest woman's son; for,
indeed, my father did something smack, something
grow to, he had a kind of taste; well, my conscience
says 'Launcelot, budge not.' 'Budge,' says the
fiend. 'Budge not,' says my conscience.
'Conscience,' say I, 'you counsel well;' ' Fiend,'
say I, 'you counsel well:' to be ruled by my
conscience, I should stay with the Jew my master,
who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil; and, to
run away from the Jew, I should be ruled by the
fiend, who, saving your reverence, is the devil
himself. Certainly the Jew is the very devil
incarnal; and, in my conscience, my conscience is
but a kind of hard conscience, to offer to counsel
me to stay with the Jew. The fiend gives the more
friendly counsel: I will run, fiend; my heels are
at your command; I will run.

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